Christmas in Ethiopia (Horn of Africa)
A Brief History
Ethiopia, called the ‘Land of Punt’ by the Egyptians, and the ‘Land of Ophir’ in the Bible (1 Kings 9:28 & 2 Chron. 8:18), is one of the oldest independent nations in Africa and one of the oldest countries in the world. It is one of only two African countries never to be colonized by European powers, the other being Liberia. Beginning in the 16th century, Ethiopia was called Abyssinia; since 1995 its official name is The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has a long Judeo-Christian history, which goes back 3,000 years. Judaism was first introduced to Ethiopia via the Queen of Sheba’s visit to King Solomon (1 Kings 10:1-13 & 2 Chron. 9:1-12). Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia during the first century by the Ethiopian eunuch, thanks to his encounter with the apostle Philip on the road to Gaza (Acts 8:26-28). However, Ethiopians traditionally trace the beginning of Christianity in their nation to the fourth century. This is when two Syrian Christians, St. Frumentius and Edesius, introduced Christianity to Ethiopia. They were responsible for leading the king to Christ, and were allowed to evangelize the nation. King Ezana in turn made Christianity the officially recognized religion of Ethiopia.
Because of their unique Judeo-Christian heritage, many devout orthodox Ethiopian Christians follow the same dietary laws as Judaism, outlined in Leviticus. They tend to give their children Old Testament names, and many still hold Saturday sacred as the Sabbath. Like Jews, they also do not eat pork. Devout Christians fast for 40 days before Christmas. Since many Orthodox Christians fast every Wednesday and Friday anyway, they are used to the practice. Ethiopians are usually allowed to eat one meal in the evening during the fasts, but they may not eat meat or dairy.
Christmas, known as Gena or Ganna in Amharic, is celebrated on January 7th, because the Ethiopian Orthodox Church still follows the ancient Julian calendar. Ethiopians celebrate Christmas somewhat differently depending on whether they live in the big city or in the country. Usually, everyone dresses in white and attends mass at a local church. If they live in rural areas, the churches are rectangular and were carved out of solid rock over 800 years ago. Modern churches are round and built in three concentric circles. The choir stands in the outer circle. The congregation stands in the middle circle, called the holy place, with men and boys separated from the women and girls. The innermost circle is where the priest serves Holy Communion. There are no chairs, so the congregants stand throughout the service, which can last up to three hours!
Typical Christmas traditions revolve around church and family. Gifts are not a focus of Christmas in Ethiopia. If any gifts are given, it is to young children, and consists of clothing or a small toy. However, the men and boys enjoy playing the game of ganna, which is much like field hockey, and only played on Ganna, thus the name.
A traditional Christmas meal is called wat, a thick, spicy stew made of meat, vegetables and sometimes eggs. Wat is served over injera, a flat sourdough bread, which is used as an edible ‘plate’ for the stew. “Melkin Yelidet Beaal” means Merry Christmas in Amharic.
Ethiopia is part of the 10/40 window, it is 60% Christian, 32% Muslim according to the World Factbook. Pray for the unreached people of Ethiopia. Although Ethiopia has a large number of Christians, they still experience persecution. Pray for an end to the persecution that many Christians suffer at the hands of extremist Muslims in this country. Pray for all of the people of Ethiopia.